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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


That Was the Year That Was


What a year this (Jewish) year has been. As it came to its end, Queen Elizabeth Ii died. We thought she would go on forever, or at least past 100, as her mother had made it to 101 ½. We were taken by the outpouring of grief upon her death and fascinated by the rituals surrounding her burial.


It was a year in which the unthinkable happened. Yes, wars take place all time, but in distant lands, where we demean their lack of civilization. But for a war to break out at the edge of Europe! The implications of the Russian invasion, as well as the Ukrainian resistance, have stunned us. Who knew how interconnected nations are in terms of their energy needs? The war lacks Dan Rather reporting from the front and a Walter Cronkite to put the news into perspective. The war has lasted so long it is, with rare exception, relegated to the inner pages of the newspaper. Who would’ve thought given their anti-Semitic histories we would be rooting for the Ukrainians and applauding the Poles for their humanitarian efforts?


It has been a year that reminded us of how our national obsession with arms has allowed for the horrific reality of one mass shooting happening every day in this country. (A mass shooting is defined as one in which 4 or more people, aside from the shooter, are either killed or wounded.) We just take notice when a massacre occurs in a school or in a market. But it is a sobering reality, which our legislators refuse to fully address and rein in.


And it has been a year in which the Supreme Court, bowing to ideology rather than precedent, has reshaped the nature of American life. One would be hard pressed to call this court truly conservative.


But on a more positive note, kine harah (against the evil way), New York baseball teams are seemingly on a path for a potential subway series, and we may yet see a 61 home run record smashed. (Who knows perhaps by the time you read this it will have been broken.)


The new year is 5783. In Hebrew it is Tav Shin Pay Gimmel, which may be read as an abbreviation for T’hee Sh’nat P’la-im Gedolim, may it be a year of great wonders. May it also be a year of good health and happiness for all of us.


Shabbat shalom V’Shanah Tovah UMetukah, a good and sweet new year.


P.S.A few days ago, Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, attacked his opponent Joshua Shapiro for having attended an elitist private school and for sending his children to the same school. (It was and is a Jewish day school in the Philadelphia area.) Well worth watching is this clip by Jake Tapper who responded to the smear.


Friday night on zoom at 8 p.m.


Saturday morning in the sanctuary at 10 a.m.






Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel


Teeing Up in Israel


How many 18-hole golf courses are there here in Suffolk County? How about in all of Israel? Answers: 71 and 1, respectively! Back in 1961 a golf course was built by the Rothschild family in Caesarea. Since then, a 9-hole course was created nearby and one in Ga’ash, near Netanyahu, which has since closed. 27 holes of golf for a population closing in on 10 million. Past time to change the ratio.


It was recently announced by the Ministry of Tourism and the Israel Lands Authority that a tender for a new golf course and hotel is being published. Where? North of Eilat. The area in question in question is approximately 500 acres. The successful bidder will be required to create a hotel with over 500 rooms, a shopping complex, the golf course, as well as an adjacent golf academy.


Given the success of golf in dry climates such Nevada and Arizona, there is the potential for a desert landscape in the hot environs of southern Israel. The Lands Authority director Yaakov Quint sees growing demand for hotels as well as new recreational activities. And a golf resort in Eilat would fit the bill.


Over a decade ago, the Tourism Ministry pointed to creating a network of golf courses through Israel to generate increased tourism. There was a plan for 16 golf courses, which given the growing popularity of golf tourism, was thought would boost tourism by 20%.  Courses around the country were in the pipeline when the project was shelved.


This new project, more limited in scope, will require developers to submit proposals by next May and the winner will sign a development contract of six years.


Will a golf course for Eilat be a fore-gone reality? We shall have to see if developers tee it up.






Payrush LaParshahah: A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20) is read this Saturday, September 24th.


29:15 Well you know that we dwelt in the land of Egypt and that we passed through the midst of various other nations through which you passed. (26) and you have seen the detestable things and the fetishes of wood and stone, silver, and gold, that they keep. (17) Perchance there is among you some man or woman, or some clan or tribe, whose heart is even now turning away from our God YHWH to go and worship the gods of those nations—perchance there is among you a stock sprouting poison weed and wormwood. (18) When hearing the words of these sanctions, such a one may imagine a special immunity, thinking, “I shall be safe, though I follow my own willful heart—to the utter ruin of moist and dry alike. (19) YHWH will never forgive such individuals…


29:17 whose heart is even now turning away from our God YHWH. In contrast to Deuteronomy 13 and 17:2-7, which emphasize visible transgressions, our parashah focuses on the hidden though and intention and on following the willful or the stiffened heart (bishrirut lev). The heart, which in Deuteronomy is often the innermost organ of intellectual acknowledgement and piety, serves frequently in the Bible as the secret place for self-reflection (as in Ecclesiastes 2:1, 15), personal or political evil-intent (as in Genesis 27:41; I Kings 12:26), or even for theological illegitimate thoughts (as in 8:17; 9:4; Isaiah 14:1; 47:10). This last context seems to be the background of our passage’s repeated usage of the heart as the organ where secret offense against God is concealed. (Dalit Rom-Shiloni, in “Nitzavim: Covenantal Choices,” Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss, editors, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary. Professor Rom-Shiloni earned her degrees at Hebrew University: a B.A. in 1987; MA. In 1991; and her Ph.D. in 2001. She was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in 2001-2002. She then had a post-doctoral fellowship from 2002-2004 at the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Since then she has been on the faculty of Tel Aviv University, and is currently Associate Professor in the Department of Biblical Studies. In 2009 she published in Hebrew and in English, God in Times of Destruction and Exile: Tanakh Theology. In 2013, she published Exclusive Inclusivity: Identity conflicts between the Exiles and the People Who remained (6th-5th Centuries BCE). She was the author of the commentary on Jeremiah in The Jewish Study Bible. Last year, in 2021, her latest volume appeared: Voices from the Ruins: Theodicy and the Fall of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible. Additionally, she is the author of numerous scholarly articles that have appeared in journals and as book chapters.)






The Torah reading for the First Day of Rosh HaShanah (September 26th) is Genesis 21.


21:9 Now Sarah saw the son that Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham, playing. (10)She said to Abraham, “Throw this slave girl and her son out. The son of this slave girl is not going to share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”


21:10 “The son of this slave girl is not going to share in the inheritance.” Sarah raises inheritance as the issue, stressing meanwhile that Hagar is a slave. In 17:19, God had earmarked Isaac to receive the covenantal promise, and perhaps Sarah is acting with that knowledge. Ancient law collections from Mesopotamia address inheritance in similar cases, illustrating ancient customs that may lie in the background of this story. In the collection of Lipit Ishtar, the status of the second wife determines whether or nor her son inherits. In the collection of Hammurabi, a child of a slave inherits only if the father claims him. The sons of Zilpah and Bilah—women of a status similar to Hagar—do later inherit along with the children of the primary wives, Leah and Rachel. Perhaps Sarah objects to such an arrangement because her son is so young and she may not be around to protect him. (Tammi J. Schneider, “Vayeira: Between Laughter and Tears,” in Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss, editors, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary. Prior to studying at the University of Minnesota in 1980, Professor Schneider studied in an ulpan in Jerusalem. She returned there for her Junior Year, studying at Hebrew Union College. She was granted a B.A. in Hebrew Language and Literature in 1984. In the summer of 1986, she studied at the Hebrew University Archaeological Field Methods and Biblical Archaeology. She was awarded her doctorate in Ancient History in 1991 by the University of Pennsylvania. She was a Teaching Assistant at Penn from 1986-1988 and then a lecturer in its College of General Studies from 1988 to 1992. In 1993 she became an adjunct professor at Claremont School of Theology, a position she held until 2010. In 1n 1993 she also started as an Assistant Professor of Religion in The Claremont Graduate School. In 1990 she moved to being Associate Professor of Religion in Claremont Graduate University and in January of 2005 she became a Professor of Religion at that school. Professor Schneider has participated in archaeological excavations in Israel for several decades, beginning as a volunteer at Tel Miqne/Ekron in the Summer of 1986. Since then, she was field director at Tel Harassim, in 1997, director at Tel el-Far’a (South) Summers 1999-2002. Since 2010, she has served as Director Education at Tel Akko. She has served as regional president of the Society of Biblical Literature and as Dean of the school of Arts and Humanities at Claremont. In addition to her numerous articles in scholarly publication, she is the author of four books. In 2000, her commentary on Judges was published as part of the Berit Olam Commentary series. In 2004, she published Sarah: Mother of Nations. In 2008, Mothers of Promise: Women in the Book of Genesis, appeared, followed three years later in 2011, by An introduction to Ancient Mesopotamian Religion.)






The Torah Reading for the Second Day of Rosh HaShanah (September 27) is Genesis 22


22:1 Some time afterward, God put Abraham to the test. He said to him, “Abraham,” and he answered, “Here I am.” (2) And he said “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.”


22:1 God put Abraham to the test. It is very difficult to explain the matter of G’d “testing” someone, seeing that G’d knows in advance what the result of such a test is going to be. What then is the point of such a test? If the point was to demonstrate to the world at large Avraham successfully passed such a test, how could this be accomplished in a setting where only Avraham and Yitzchok were present? He had even left the lads who had accompanied him so that there were no witnesses whatsoever to his carrying out a command which he had not even told Yitzchok about until the last possible moment! Even if Avraham had told someone what had transpired on the mountain, who would have believed him? The truth is that the purpose of the trial was to demonstrate to the world Avraham’s love for G’d. It was not meant to demonstrate anything to the generation during which Avraham lived, but to prove this to subsequent generations of people who believe in the Torah which was handed down to us by Moses at the command of God Himself. All that is written in the Torah [including such stories as that of Balaam and Balak, none of which had been witnessed by any Jew alive at that time, Ed.] is meant to teach the extent to which we are expected to demonstrate our love for G’d, if and when the occasion arises. We know that Avraham loved Yitchok more than he loved himself, seeing that he was already old and did not expect any more out of life, If Yitzchok were to die at that time before he had married and raised a family, he would not have enjoyed any true satisfaction his life on earth. This thought must have been very upsetting for his father Avraham. If he was nonetheless prepared to carry out G’d’s command without hesitation this was indeed a feat that all his descendants would marvel at. The fact that Avraham who had prayed to G’d for sinners to be given a reprieve, did not even pray to G’d to spare the life of Yitzchok until he had at least married and started to raise a family, is meant to e an inspiration to all of us. Moreover, G’d Himself had provided Avraham with argument which would have entitled him to at least defer sacrificing Yitzchok since he had told him that he, Avraham, would be known in history through Yitzchok. How could such a promise be fulfilled now if Yitzchok were to die now? This story became the powerful message which Yitzchok transmitted to his son Yaakov, and which Yaakov transmitted to his sons. After the Torah was committed to writing the story became famous throughout the world, and people believing it, others not. Nowadays, after primitive paganism has ceased to exist in most of civilized society, most of mankind believe the story recorded in the bible without hesitation. If large sections of mankind express some doubts about what is written in the Torah this concerns only whether everything written in the Torah as fact needs to be understood as historical, literal truth, or if many stories are to be understood as allegorical but conveying the same ethical and moral messages. Similarly, these doubters believe that many of the practical commandments in the Torah were not meant to be fulfilled literally, but examples demonstrating G’d’s attitudes to certain problems confronting man. The very fact that majority of mankind does believe that Avraham did what the Torah writes he did, is proof that Avraham had lived the kind of life which inspired man to believe that one can love G’d more than anything else in the universe. (Radak, Rabbi David Kimchi, the translation is that of “Sefaria. Org.” [At times the translation departs from the literal meaning of the text.] Rabbi David Kimchi, or spelled Kimhi and Qimchi, was born in 1160 in Narbonne, Provence, the son of Rabbi Joseph and the brother of Rabbi Moses, both of whom were grammarians and biblical commentators. As his father died young, he was raised by his brother and would go on to teach in Narbonne. Kimchi’s first work was in philology: Michlol [The Perfection]. It was eventually published in two parts; the first half as Chelek HaDikduk [The Grammatical Section] was first published in 1532 and was known as the Michlol;  the second section, ironically had been published decades earlier, in 1480, as Sefer HaShorashim [The Book of Roots]. He is also noted for his Bible commentaries, primarily on the Books of the Prophets. His commentary appears along with that of Rashi’s as one of the two principal commentaries in standard version of the Mikraot Gedolot, “The Rabbinic Bible.” Moreover, he wrote commentaries on Genesis, Psalms and Chronicles, which were published independently. The commentaries on the Psalms and the Prophetic books are among the earlier Hebrew volumes printed, having been issued in 1477 and 1482, respectively. The Chronicles commentary in the following century, but the Genesis commentary was first published in 1842! His commentaries are laced with anti-Christian polemics [the commentary above offers a hint of this tendency], demonstrating Christian misinterpretations of the text and of Christianity’s tendency to allegorize biblical texts. His polemical material on Psalms was later collected and printed in 1644 as Teshuvot laNozerim [Responses to the Nazarenes.] Nevertheless, his commentaries were used by the translators of the Kings James Bible. Radak was involved in the Maimonidean controversy of the 1230’s and he undertook a journey to Toledo to gain the support of Judah ibn Al-Fakar, who was an opponent of the Maimonideans. Although Illness prevented the completion of the journey, his correspondence with ibn Al-Fakar has survived. Kimhci died in 1235.)






Questions for Nitzavim 5782 (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20)


  1. Usually a phrase that says “from x to y” denotes an extended range. Explain the phrase “from woodchopper to water drawer” in verse 10.
  2. Who are those absent from the covenant ceremony? Can one make a multi-generational covenant?
  3. How does the text belittle the would-be worshipper of idolatry? How is their fate linked to what should befall Amalek?
  4. Outside of this passage (verse 22) and Genesis, are there other references to Sodom and Gomorrah? How about to Admah and Zeboim?
  5. How does the warning in verses 29:20 and following create a new counter theology of why bad things happen to a nation? Is the description based on what happened to the northern kingdom?
  6. Why is the Lamed written large in the word Vahyishl’chaym in verse 27?
  7. Why the Masoretic dots over some of the words in verse 28? What do they signify?
  8. How often is a form of the verb SHUV (Shin, Vav, Bet, return) found in 30:1-3?
  9. Is a return to the land of Israel conditional on a return to God? Are the Neturay Karta correct that the Zionist enterprise is premature?
  10. Verse 30:6 echoes what familiar passage in the liturgy?
  11. From a modern point of view what is absent in the promised blessings found in chapter 30? Why?
  12. How does the phrase “It is not in the Heavens” encapsulate the rabbinic approach to Revelation?
  13. How are the concluding verses of this reading appropriate for the Shabbat prior to Rosh HaShanah?


Questions for the Haftorah (Isaiah 61:10-63:9)


  1. Why is 62:1 a clarion call of Zionism?
  2. The term translated as “I will delight in her” in Hebrew is often rendered as Hephzibah. Were there any biblical figures with that name?
  3. 62:8-9 is the antithesis of what passage in Deuteronomy?
  4. How does 62:10 echo a passage in the first of the haftorot of consolation (Isaiah 40)? Were these passages giving employ to civil engineers and road crews?
  5. How did the opening verses of chapter 63 give hope to Jews in medieval Christendom?
  6. 63: 9 has the simple word LO written in two different ways. What are the implications of each use?


Wed, September 28 2022 3 Tishrei 5783